By Joseph Claypoole
The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating a problem already plaguing youth in Washington – suicide.
Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, said House Bill 1354 is key to finding out why rates of suicide are climbing in Washington and on how to stop the trend.
Mosbrucker is proposing the formation of the Washington Youth Suicide Review Team, made up of 12 people appointed by the governor.
“The goal of the bill is to literally lay out every suicide case under 24 in the state of Washington during 2020,”
Mosbrucker said. “And to figure out what’s the nexus because kids are struggling…far more than they used to.”
The team would review medical records, voluntary home interviews with parents and other strategies to discover if any common factors exist among young people who commit suicide.
One factor already under scrutiny is the COVID-19 pandemic. A November report from the Centers for Disease Control indicates the pandemic is having a negative effect on children’s health.
“Especially with teens right now with COVID,” said Benine McDonnell, a mother from Yakima. “There are so
many losses in their lives. They can’t go to school, they don’t have any in-person time with their friends.”
One of the team’s goals is to recommend intervention programs to reach youth earlier in life, but the idea they would have access to medical records raised some concerns during the public hearing Feb. 1.
“We appreciate the bill’s approach to prevention,” said Jaclyn Greenberg, policy director with the Washington State Hospital Association. “[But] we hope to see just a few changes in the bill, particularly around strengthening the protections for people’s medical privacy.”
The bill hasn’t been scheduled for a vote, but Mosbrucker is confident this is the best step forward and is willing to amend the bill.
“I want the best bill possible,” she said. “The one that helps the most people and protects information and families. Whatever keeps kids alive in Washington and across the nation.”
The 12-member team would be made up of health professionals, law enforcement, people from child protection
systems and a family member of a youth who died from suicide. Mosbrucker said she’s excited to have survivors on board who want to help.
For survivors, like Madison Garcia, now a CNA at Oregon Veteran’s Home, this is their time to shine as well.
“This is finally my chance,” Garcia said. “Not for five minutes of fame, but to actually help.